Homily for Thursday after Epiphany, 6 Jan 2022, Lk 4:14-22
We have a funny situation in today’s Gospel. It is about Jesus doing the lectoring on a Sabbath Day in the synagogue service in his hometown Nazareth, and being pressured to preach the homily as well.
In the Catholic Christian tradition, our lectors at Mass are expected to do only the first and second readings during the Liturgy of the Word. The priest presider is the one expected to to read the Gospel and do the preaching. It was more or less the same in the Jewish Sabbath liturgy. It was the official village Rabbi or some professionally trained guest Rabbi who usually did the preaching. Jesus was none of the above. But as an adult and literate native of Nazareth, he could be assigned to do the lectoring.
St Luke tells us Jesus was handed the scroll and he stood to do his part, which was mainly to do the reading. After proclaiming the words of the prophet Isaiah, “he gave back the scroll to the attendant AND SAT DOWN. “ Meaning, he was ready to listen to the homily of the village Rabbi. That’s when the awkward moment takes place. Luke says, “The eyes of all in the synagogue LOOKED INTENTLY AT HIM.” Meaning, they were waiting for him to go back to the podium and preach a little commentary on what he had read. I imagine him being taken by surprise and saying, as he gestured, pointing at himself and asked, “Er.. are you asking me to give a homily?”
Obviously, it means his reputation had preceded him. His town-mates must have heard of him being invited to preach in other towns and villages, like Capernaum, even if he wasn’t professionally trained. He actually says it later, and compares himself to a doctor being asked to work out some cures in his hometown, “Do here in your native place the things we heard were done in Capernaum.” I suspect that he spoke sitting down, instead of standing up in the podium.
What has he been doing in other towns like Capernaum anyway? Well, he tells them plainly that he was just fulfilling what the prophet Isaiah said he had been anointed for: “to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom to captives, relief to the oppressed, restoration of sigh to the blind…in short, a Jubilee Year when debts are forgiven.”
And then when he actually addresses his town-mates, he says some words they find very offensive. Something like, “Oh, you want me do here what you hear me doing in other places? How do you expect me to do so if your minds are already conditioned into saying I’m just the son of a carpenter, your next-door neighbor. I’m just one of you, not some Rabbi trained in the Scriptures in the famous rabbinical schools in Jerusalem.” He even mentions about miracles done by Elijah on a widow from Zarephta, or by Elisha on the Aramean soldier called Naaman, and not to any of their own town mates. They get so mad they drive him out and try to push him down the cliff, but he slips away from them.
Believe it or not, even 2,000 years later, this is still an issue for many Christians. There are still those who have no difficulty confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but still have a problem accepting his humanity. You have often heard me referring to this as our collective low self-esteem about our humanity, which we have so equated with being fallen, weak and sinful. We would rather have a divine Christ who is above all of us, who supposedly manifested himself in the humanity of Jesus. A Christ who promises to share his divinity only to those who can renounce this “sinful world, their sinful humanity, their corrupt human bodies.”
There are still many who think of salvation as nothing but an escape, a release or a liberation from mortality into immortality. And that this could only happen through a total renunciation of this passing world. These are the kind of believers who will never take creation, or the world, or their physical lives seriously. They are the kind who promote a religiosity or piety that denies the innate goodness of the world. They cannot think of salvation as anything other than an afterlife reward for a chosen few. Today our good news is a simple statement from Jesus: the kingdom of God is a reality that is already present now but is still a work in progress. He invites us to participate in bringing it to fulfillment.